When Jupiter is visible, it’s easy to spot, as it’s one of the brightest and most beautiful features found in the night sky. All stars pale in comparison to Jupiter, though the planet is dimmer than Venus and the Moon, and occasionally surpassed by Mercury and Mars.
Jupiter is best seen through a telescope every 13 months. A telescope is the best tool for viewing objects in space, as the magnification allows you to zoom in and out to great lengths.
This begs the question, what magnification should you use to see Jupiter? Keep reading to find the answer in this article, as well as whether you can see Jupiter with binoculars or not.
What Magnification Should I Use To See Jupiter?
To best see planets, your telescope should have a longer focal length, so it can give you a clearer image in the eyepiece. If you can, opt for refracting telescopes. These contrast the image well as their view isn’t obstructed.
Higher apertures will also display smaller details better, though this does depend on the sky conditions at the time.
No matter what telescope you’re working with, you’ll need to use the highest magnification that it can handle to look at Jupiter.
In most cases, multiply your telescope’s aperture by 30-50 times to get the optimum magnification level. For example, try 150x to 250x on a 5-inch telescope. This formula tends to work well in average seeing conditions, but if you have good visibility or an amazing telescope, you can go for a higher magnification level.
This is just a general guideline, so do feel free to experiment with your telescope. Begin with a lower magnification level, then increase until the image looks large and clear. The ideal magnification level will change each day along with the sky conditions.
Do remember that if you have a less professional telescope, your images will still seem small, even at maximum magnification.
This may be discouraging, but Jupiter is a planet that shows a lot of color and detail. Even with smaller images, you may be able to pick out Jupiter’s color belts, different zones, and shadows caused by its moons.
To do this, you need to be patient. It can take up to half an hour of viewing to pick out the details, but the results are truly worth it.
Can I See Jupiter With Binoculars?
As Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system, its size makes it a great planet to view through binoculars. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to see Jupiter along with its moons.
As you look at Jupiter, hold your binoculars still, and see if you can spot four light sources near it. Called the Galilean Moons, these won’t look much different from the stars, as moons look like sources of light when viewed through binoculars.
However, you’ll be able to identify if they are moons or not, as they will all have different brightness levels. Stars emit light, but planets reflect it.
Io, Jupiter's inner moon, is normally too close to Jupiter to see with binoculars. Nevertheless, if you have special astronomy binoculars, you may still have a chance of identifying it.
Though Io is more difficult to see with binoculars, you can still see the other three moons, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto move position throughout the night. They’ll look like they disappear as they move in front of or behind the planet.
It is possible to see Jupiter and its moons through binoculars. However, do note that when the moons are very close to Jupiter, smaller amateur binoculars cannot differentiate the planets from the moons. At this stage, you can only view their differences through much larger binoculars.
What Is The Best Time To See Jupiter?
When Jupiter is closest to the Earth, it roughly measures 50 arcseconds, which is big enough to see clearly in a telescope. The only other planet that seems larger than Earth is Venus, but you cannot see any features on Venus upon looking at it. Jupiter shows up with lots of details and characteristics.
To best see Jupiter through your telescope, you need to do so when Jupiter is closest to Earth and opposite from the Sun. Known as opposition, the Sun will set in the west and Jupiter will rise in the east.
If you do manage to miss opposition, Jupiter is big enough to see within the sky, so you can still spot it for a couple of months after optimum viewing time.
You can start seeing Jupiter from July each year, and can continue viewing it up until December. It’s best to look at the sky earlier in the night rather than later. As a general rule, try to start looking for Jupiter once the sky first turns dark in your area.
You also need good visibility in the night sky. As you look at the stars, they shouldn’t look like they are twinkling. The air should be still and quiet. If it is windy, you won’t be able to see Jupiter’s features as it will look like a hazy circle.
If you’re transporting your telescope into another environment, you’ll need to give it enough time to settle to a different temperature. For example, if you take a telescope from a warm house outside to colder air, it’ll take around half an hour for your telescope to cool down.
If you don’t leave the telescope to settle, the lenses and mirrors may look twisted, or there may be remaining air moving within the telescope. This can make images look deformed, so it's best to leave enough time for the telescope to adapt.
Larger telescopes will take longer to adjust, while smaller telescopes will need less time to do the same.
How Can I See Jupiter’s Great Red Spot?
While it can be easy to spot Jupiter in the sky, identifying its Spot is much more difficult. The Great Red Spot is a spinning whirlwind of storms in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere. It’s roughly twice the size of Earth and looks like spinning red clouds.
Jupiter is very far away from Earth, so you’ll need a telescope with a four-inch aperture or more to identify the Spot. You’ll also need a dark sky that isn’t obstructed by light or other objects. If the Spot is too hazy, try using light green or deep blue filters to help see it clearer.
You can start seeing The Great Red Spot in smaller telescopes once it passes through the planet’s meridian. The meridian is the line that links the north and south poles.
The Spot passes through the meridian once Jupiter rotates every 9.8 hours. However, be aware that it may pass through in the morning as well as the night. You can search for meridian crossings coming up using apps, online trackers, or looking through astronomy magazines.